December 10, 2004

Another One Gone …

Dan Gillmor’s announcement that he is leaving the San Jose Mercury News for a news citizens journalism venture (hey, Dan, I’m looking for work!) is yet another indication of how newspapers cannot retain their most adventurous, risk-taking people.

Dan says he is “leaving one of the best gigs in journalism” not with any ill will toward the newspaper – “the Merc has been incredibly good to me” – but because the “something powerful is happening” in grassroots journalism and he has the opportunity to pursue it elsewhere.

“I hate the idea of leaving,” says Dan. “But I'd hate not trying this even more.”

Dan’s departure is more than a loss for the Mercury; it is a metaphor for the newspaper industry, which has:

 Managed to preside over the decline of its original delivery vehicle, paper.
 Failed to take full advantage of its electronic replacement, losing an increasing number of classifieds to eBay, Craigslist, Monster and elsewhere while still, with a few exceptions, wielding a shovel to build online sites that mimic the printed parent.
 Not recognized – to the point of vocal disdain in many cases – the emerging technical ability and unleashed desire of all citizens to publish their own news, a direct threat to the core competency of the newspaper: local news.

As anyone who reads me regularly knows, I remain a strong proponent of newspapers and newspaper journalists. We, as a society, need their capacity for independent reporting and collective identity, but as institutions they are failing us because of their inability to change with the times. They are also failing the innovators who work for them, driving them out through inaction to other ventures.

In addition to Dan, here are a few other people who have left daily newspapers for different forms of journalism or communications:

 David Talbot, founder of Salon (and Salon editors Scott Rosenberg and Gary Kamiya; San Francisco Examiner. (Scott Rosenberg comments here about his leap out of newspapering.)
 Mark Potts, founder of Backfence, a grassroots media startup; Washington Post, Chicago Tribune.
 Jeff Jarvis, author of BuzzMachine; San Francisco Examiner, New York Daily News.
 Larry Kramer, founding CEO of CBS Marketwatch; Washington Post, San Francisco Examiner.
 Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives, Knight Foundation; Oakland Tribune.
 Jim Romenesko, author of Romenesko; St. Paul Pioneer Press.
 Don George, global travel editor, Lonely Planet; San Francisco Examiner.
 Eric Best, managing director, Morgan Stanley; San Francisco Examiner.
 Barbara French, founder of Reputation and SF; San Francisco Examiner.

No doubt you could add dozens more names to the list. And, of course, there are the thousands of other former editors and reporters, such as Rachel Elson or Sally Lehrman or MaryAnn Hogan, who remain in journalism but have left newspapers for online or freelancing or teaching. If I could start a newspaper from scratch – a media companythese are the first people I’d call. If I ran a newspaper, these are the last people I’d want to lose.

Posted by Tim Porter at December 10, 2004 09:58 AM

feh. Jarvis didn't leave any paper willingly, and Romanesko was pushed out of the Pioneer Press, despite his revisionist history to the contrary. If I were to start a media organization from scratch, these would be the LAST people I'd call, because their egos wouldn't allow them to coexist with anyone else.

Haven't you stopped to wonder why blogging is such a solitary pursuit? It's because these people can't get along with anyone else.

Posted by: Tom Gwynn on December 10, 2004 01:20 PM
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